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Do Harm, Look the Other Way: The New Hippocratic Oath?

Save the Children just issued a report about newborns in Syria starving to death.

When Hippocrates wrote in the late 5th-century BCE that, “Medicine, the most noble of all arts, falls far behind others thanks to the ignorance of those who practice it,” he never envisioned that someday professional medical practitioners would use it as a weapon of war. Neither did he foresee that that they themselves would be used as a weapon to further the causes of warring states. The father of medicine, who challenged the superstitious practices of temple priests and priestesses, would also be shocked to see how modern political apostles are inflicting and polluting injured patients through violence and war, and how for-profit medical industries are imposing a kind of bloodletting against sick patients and the disadvantaged.

Save the Children just issued a report about newborns in Syria starving to death. Due to Syria’s civil war, doctors are cutting off limbs to stop patients from bleeding to death. As thousands of doctors continue to flee the country, 60 percent of hospitals have been either damaged or destroyed – adding to Syria’s humanitarian crisis. With ongoing air strikes and military raids, in Occupied Gaza thousands of patients are facing a similar crisis, and have for years. A decades-old blockade has severely restricted life-saving medicines. The recent Israeli military invasion destroyed needed medical facilities and hospitals. Salman Tawfik, who just watched his wife lapse into a coma for lack of medicines, said: “No one wants to help. No one wants to hear.”

In some parts of Pakistan, the Taliban have banned polio and other immunizations. In part, their actions were caused by the US-led campaign to have a Pakistani doctor work for the CIA, as a cover for espionage to help find Osama bin Laden. Medicines, like polio and hepatitis vaccinations, are now viewed as more US armed interventions and covert actions. With continual terror from above – drone flights – one can hardly blame the Taliban. Not far away, questions surround fraud and a major cover-up at Afghanistan’s Dawood National Military Hospital. Reports show patients underwent physical, mental, and emotional abuses. Staff nurses at the US funded and run hospital were evidently demanding bribes of patients for food, with some patients even slowly starving to death.

The US Department of Defense approved using medical doctors and psychologists in their enhanced interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Detention Camp, where suspected terrorists are still imprisoned. According to reports, enhanced interrogation was actually unauthorized “acts of torture” supervised by health authorities. Medical experts were used to experiment on inmates and induce patients’ “confessions” with mind-altering drugs. Inmates’ reactions to extreme stressors during long periods of isolation and confinement were studied and recorded. Lengthier confinement was often encouraged so as to cause hallucinations and personality disorders. Some doctors even ignored broken bones, lacerations, and nerve damage that victims underwent during severe beatings.

In Bahrain, a court sentenced nine medical professionals to prison for aiding injured people hurt by government forces during protests. They were tortured into releasing the names of treated protesters, and then tried and accused of “politicizing” their profession in encouraging demonstrators. In Guatemala, President Barack Obama offered a weak apology on behalf of the US Public Health Service. Hundreds of Guatemalans had been subjected to non-consensual human medical experimentation during the Cold War. They were infected to be used as vehicles to infect test subjects for venereal diseases and other medical experiments. While 700 people were infected with syphilis and gonorrhea, prisoners suffering from mental health problems underwent experiments too.

In the US, for-profit health and pharmaceutical industries funneled billions of dollars into politicians’ coffers. The goal was to manipulate and engineer health reform for even greater obscene profits. Through campaigns, media and commercial blitzes, and social media sites, healthcare profiteers sowed fear and confusion, pitting one economic class against another. As the Corporate Unaffordable Care Act won out over a true “universal healthcare” plan, a broken healthcare system and corrupt pharmaceutical industry were never really addressed or challenged. For-profit industries that control one-sixth of the economy will continue to corporatize healing and wellness. At the same time, tens-of-thousands of Americans will continue to be killed indirectly by unjust structures.

Yet this is not the entire medical narrative. Thousands of de-centralized, anti-imperial healthcare groups are still motivated by “doing no harm” and driven by the patients’ best interest. One group is the Tumor Merci Mission. Despite limited supplies and monies, thousands of poor children and adults in Vietnam have been treated for rare and difficult diseases, like Epidermolysis Bullosa, tumors (some weighing 200lbs) and heart disease. Along with marathon surgery missions, the Tumor Merci Mission has trained dozens of doctors to help patients live “normal” lives. [1] Through other non-profit healthcare organizations, like Heartbeat Myanmar and Cuba’s “free” nursing and medical programs, thousands of patients have experienced medical miracles.

Hippocrates’ practice to treat the body as a unified organism, make use of observation instead of supernatural explanations, and to heal rather than to harm patients, was the foundation of medicine and healing. But due to war, unprofessional medical ethics, and corporate greed, health care systems are collapsing. Such imbalances between healing and war, the best interest of a patient and greed, consent and mischievous and covert research, have poisoned and killed many, including entire peoples and states. “Symptoms are the body’s natural defenses,” wrote Hippocrates, “we call them diseases, but in reality, they are the treatment for the disease.” War, using medical personnel as weapons, punitive blockades, and for-profit health industries, are diseases that must be treated.

For more information concerning non-profit medical groups see VinaCapital Foundation and Children of Vietnam.


1. Sam Seyadoussane, “An Unsung Hero Who Helps to Bring the World’s Medical Expertise to the Needed,” 22 Feb. 2012.